by Matthew M. Lug

Cast: of Characters

François - Insane Host

Graham James - Doctor of Physics (Medical Doctor)

Helen James - Intoxicated Wife

Chris Smith - Out of Work Actor (Investigative Reporter)

Robert Bradley - Accountant (Heir to a Fortune)

Joan Bradley - Ballet Instructor (Victim)

Detective Webster



Setting: The dining room in an old mansion.


(A rectangular table with six place settings is in the center of the room. A painting of Sherlock Holmes is hanging on the back wall over a sofa. FRANÇOIS is sitting towards stage right of the table with CHRIS directly opposite, GRAHAM and HELEN toward the back of the stage facing the audience, and ROBERT across from HELEN with an empty seat next to him. All are wearing formal clothing. Lights are off, and everyone on stage is perfectly still. A loud scream is heard, and the lights come on. Those at the table, except for FRANÇOIS, seem shocked and quite concerned. A loud thud can be heard offstage. ROBERT jumps up, but FRANÇOIS motions for him to be calm and sit down. ROBERT reluctantly sits down. HELEN quickly finishes her glass of wine and fills it back up. FRANÇOIS stands and begins walking around the room slowly. He stops in the center of the stage, faces out toward the audience, and begins to speak in an obviously fake and ambiguously European accent.)

FRANÇOIS: (Slowly) And there it is. A scream. A thud. (Dramatic pause, then loudly) A murder.

ROBERT: (Frantically) Murder? How do you know it was a murder? Maybe my wife was just frightened by the bathroom. The bathrooms in these old houses can be a bit unnerving.

FRANÇOIS: (Slowly and overly dramatic) Houses like this often hide things far more frightening than dirty toilets. They hide the deepest, darkest, most horrifying secrets of the human soul. At a gathering such as this, it is only a matter of time before someone is brutally murdered. A dinner party in an old home, everyone with a secret to hide. Everyone with a motive. Everyone is a suspect.

ROBERT: (In shock) Brutal murder?

HELEN: (Sarcastically) Dinner party?

CHRIS: (Confused) Motive?

GRAHAM: (Frightened) Suspect?

FRANÇOIS: (Still overly dramatic) Yes, all correct. It always happens this way. Someone is killed, and the others deny guilt. But they all have their secrets. And none can be trusted.

GRAHAM: (Angrily) Now wait just one minute. Even forgetting the fact that most of us are complete strangers, we were still all here together when we heard the scream. Even if one of us had some kind of motive, none of us could have done anything.

FRANÇOIS: That is the mistake that the inexperienced mind makes in situations like this. The simplest line of thought dictates that opportunity leads to guilt. This is not so. The possibilities are endless, far more than most people can comprehend. No matter how improbable, it is still possible that any one of us could be a cold-blooded killer.

CHRIS: Um, has anyone considered the possibility that maybe none of us killed anyone?

(MAID drags JOAN into the room from stage right and leaves. JOAN is completely motionless. ROBERT rushes over to JOAN.)

ROBERT: Joan? Joan?

FRANÇOIS: (Feigning sorrow) And here we have the body of the poor victim, life so violently wrenched from her grasp. A terrible turn of events, although not entirely unexpected. So sad, yet there still remains an unknown sinister motive behind it, a depraved killer lurking among us hiding from justice...

ROBERT: (Interrupting) Wait, I think she's still alive.

FRANÇOIS: Well then, why don't you examine the victim, (Turns toward GRAHAM and shouts) Doctor Graham James!

GRAHAM: (Somewhat confused) I'm not a medical doctor.

FRANÇOIS: (Surprised, without accent) You're not?

GRAHAM: (Offended) No, I have a doctorate in physics. Is that why I was invited here, because you thought I was a medical doctor?

FRANÇOIS: (Composing himself) Um, nevermind, why don't you just go look at her.

(GRAHAM gives in and walks over to JOAN. He then checks her pulse and breathing.)

ROBERT: (Worried) Well? How is she? Is she going to be alright?

GRAHAM: (Reluctantly) She's breathing and she has a pulse, that's about all I can tell. There's also this strange odor. (He leans over and smells JOAN's face.) It smells like... chloroform.

ROBERT: (Suspiciously) Chloroform? (Looks at FRANÇOIS.) Just what exactly is going on here? All this talk of murder, now my wife gets dragged in here unconscious. Just what are you trying to pull?

FRANÇOIS: Why, that is an excellent question. And who better to answer it than (dramatic pause while turning toward CHRIS) an investigative reporter?

CHRIS: (Confused) What? Me? Why are you looking at me?

FRANÇOIS: Because you are Chris Smith, star reporter for the New York Times.

CHRIS: Try again, I'm Chris Smith, out of work actor now appearing on the corner of Maple and First Street.

FRANÇOIS: (Nervously) But that's just your cover, right? You're working on a story that requires you to be completely invisible to people walking by, and who pays attention to those talentless idiots desperately working streetcorners because nobody in their right mind would hire them to play anything more complicated than a tree stump?

CHRIS: (Beginning to get angry) Now wait just one minute! I do so have talent. Hell, I was voted best dramatic actor in my high school class. It's just the economy, that's it. Once things pick up again, I'll be living the good life, and all you arrogant snobs will wish you were half as talented as I.

FRANÇOIS: (Defensively) Um, now about the reporter bit...

CHRIS: (Snapping at FRANÇOIS) What reporter bit?

(FRANÇOIS walks over to CHRIS and slips him some cash.)

FRANÇOIS: (Softly to CHRIS) Your new part. You're playing a reporter at a dinner party gone awry. Got it?

CHRIS: (Catching on) Oh, that reporter bit. I can do that. I held a microphone in a commercial once. It was for deodorant, and I was going around asking people if they'd try...

FRANÇOIS: (Interrupting loudly) Ahem. Can you please get in character?

(FRANÇOIS sits down on the couch as if turning over the floor to CHIS.)

CHRIS: Right, right. (Acting poorly) Well, what have we here? (Gets up from the table and walks over to where JOAN, ROBERT, and GRAHAM are.) Something seems strange here. People aren't usually unconscious during dinner. (Trying poorly to make a joke) It isn't easy eating with your eyes closed.

(JOAN is still motionless on the floor, and everyone else looks at CHRIS silently after his attempt at humor. CHRIS looks around, eventually understanding that nobody is laughing.)

CHRIS: Eyes closed, can't see the food, get it?

HELEN: (Sarcastically) I can't imagine why this brilliant thespian is unemployed.

ROBERT: (Frantically) Can we please get back to the matters at hand?

(GRAHAM gets up and walks around the room, as if thinking, and eventually stops by the table.)

GRAHAM: (Suspiciously) Yes, like why we're all here. All I know is that I received a letter informing me that I had won either a big screen television, a DVD player, or a gold necklace. When I arrived we were all gathered together in the "study," which appeared to be a living room with a bookcase full of Agatha Christie novels in it. We were then forced to play a game of Clue before dinner. Now this fake murder and all these mistaken identities.

(ROBERT looks up from JOAN after hearing GRAHAM's summary of the evening.)

ROBERT: We got one of those letters too.

CHRIS: (Somewhat excitedly) Hey, I got one too. I wonder what I won.

HELEN: The boy's just a bit slow, isn't he.

(FRANÇOIS chuckles at HELEN's inebriated insight. ROBERT gets up and walks over to GRAHAM by the table.)

ROBERT: (To GRAHAM) Let me get this straight. You're supposed to be a doctor. (Pointing toward CHRIS) Sherlock over there is supposed to be a reporter. My wife is supposed to be dead.

HELEN: And this is supposed to be a dinner. Pah.

ROBERT: (Ignoring HELEN's comment) So what am I supposed to be? I'm an accountant, my wife is a ballet instructor. How do we fit into this mess?

GRAHAM: It would appear that the answer to that question is lounging on the sofa behind us.

(ROBERT and GRAHAM both turn toward FRANÇOIS while CHRIS is still standing near JOAN with a confused look on his face.)

FRANÇOIS: Don't you see? It's not who you are, but who your grandparents are.

ROBERT: Poor Irish immigrants?

FRANÇOIS: No, millionaires. Which makes you the heir to their fortune.

ROBERT: (Somewhat confused) No, my grandparents died with less money in their pockets than the day they came to this country.

FRANÇOIS: (Desperately) Are you sure? Did they have any secret bank accounts, investments, safe deposit boxes, buried treasures, solid gold coffins, anything?

ROBERT: (Angrily) No. Nothing you've been saying makes any sense. As far as I can tell, there's no reason for any of us to be here other than your sick sense of humor.

CHRIS: (Enthusiastically) Yeah! And where's my prize?

(ROBERT and GRAHAM look at CHRIS as HELEN rolls her eyes and finishes off another glass of wine.)

GRAHAM: So what do you have to say now François? Everything you said about us was completely wrong.

ROBERT: (Pointing toward JOAN) And my wife is still unconscious on the floor over there. (He walks toward FRANÇOIS slowly and menacing.) I want to know why. What is the point of all this? What are we doing here? What are you up to?

(ROBERT continues to approach FRANÇOIS until he is only a few feet away.)

FRANÇOIS: Stay back! (He stands up and reaches under his coat as if for a gun.) I'm warning you!

HELEN: Oh dear.

(ROBERT backs away as GRAHAM and CHRIS stare at the now hysterical FRANÇOIS. All action stops as the lights dim signaling the end of Scene 1.)





(The lights come back on with FRANÇOIS no longer on stage. ROBERT and JOAN are on the couch as JOAN is regaining consciousness. HELEN is in the same place, slumped over, with an empty wine glass. GRAHAM and CHRIS are sitting by the table with their chairs facing WEBSTER, who is standing toward stage left holding a note pad and pen. PARAMEDIC enters from stage left as if interrupting a conversation.)

PARAMEDIC: (To WEBSTER) He's all set to go.

WEBSTER: Fine, get him out of here.

(PARAMEDIC exits.)

WEBSTER: (To GRAHAM and CHRIS) What happened next?

GRAHAM: Well, he was threatening us, and then he removed a pistol from his jacket.

CHRIS: (Interrupting) But it wasn't a real gun, it was one of those cigarette lighter gun things.

GRAHAM: (Continuing) Yes, it wasn't a real gun, but we didn't know that at the time. We all backed away, and that's when it happened. One moment he was waving that gun at us, the next he was covered in flames.

CHRIS: He just went up like an old Christmas tree that was a little too close to the fireplace.

WEBSTER: Interesting... Nobody was near him when this happened?

GRAHAM: He was over by the couch, Robert was near where you are standing, I was over here by the table, and Chris was over there (points to where JOAN was lying in Scene 1) with Joan. My wife was of course sitting where she is now.

WEBSTER: Drinking?

GRAHAM: Can you blame her?

WEBSTER: I suppose not. (He scribbles on his pad.) So you were all away from him when he caught fire. Then what happened?

GRAHAM: Well, he started running around screaming. He then ran to the window and tried to jump out.

CHRIS: But the window was closed.

GRAHAM: And he fell to the floor in considerable pain.

WEBSTER: (Again scribbling) Okay, and what did you do then?

CHRIS: We ran over and beat (reconsiders his words), um, I mean smothered (again reconsiders), um...

GRAHAM: (Jumping in) We extinguished the flames.

CHRIS: Yeah, that's it.

GRAHAM: Then we phoned the paramedics.

CHRIS: And then you guys showed up, he got wheeled away, and we started telling you what happened.

WEBSTER: I see... Is there anything you left out?

GRAHAM: I don't think so.

CHRIS: That pretty much covers it.

GRAHAM: Excuse me detective, but you don't seem too surprised at this evening's events.

WEBSTER: Surprised? No, I suppose not. These things happen.

GRAHAM: Just how often do THESE things happen?

WEBSTER: Every once in a while. François likes to throw these little parties.

GRAHAM: He's done it before! Why don't you stop him?

WEBSTER: There's really very little anyone can do. Every time we send him over to the mental ward for monitoring, and every time he gets discharged with a clean bill of health. Since he's usually the only one who ever gets hurt, it tends to be a bit difficult to keep him locked up for any length of time.

GRAHAM: I'm surprised his shenanigans haven't gotten anybody killed.

WEBSTER: Well, he used to have a butler.

GRAHAM: (Suspiciously) Used to?

WEBSTER: One time the 'victim' happened to be carrying a gun. That was a pretty bad night.

(GRAHAM cringes at the thought of what took place. CHRIS looks on with a confused look on his face as he tries, without success, to understand. WEBSTER closes his note pad and prepares to leave.)

WEBSTER: Well, I think you have all been through enough tonight. If I need any more information, I'll be in touch.

(CHRIS exits quickly the same way as the PARAMEDIC exited earlier, followed a short while later by ROBERT slowly walking JOAN offstage. GRAHAM walks over to rouse HELEN.)

GRAHAM: (Shaking HELEN back to consciousness) Let's go dear, it's time to leave.

HELEN: (Somewhat wearily) Thank God.

(GRAHAM and a staggering HELEN exit. MAID enters from stage right.)

WEBSTER: Matilda, you really shouldn't go along with your employer's little games. You remember what happened to Raul.

MAID: (With a slight Spanish accent) I know. It is just so hard to say no to such a nice man.

WEBSTER: You've been lucky that nobody has pressed charges. No more murders, okay?

MAID: (Softly) Okay.

WEBSTER: That's better. I'll be off now; I'll let you know when François will be returning.

MAID: Goodbye detective.

WEBSTER: Goodbye Matilda.

(WEBSTER turns and leaves. As he is walking away, MAID removes a kitchen knife that was concealed in her clothing, walks toward WEBSTER, and raises the knife high above her head as the lights slowly dim.)


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